Racism in Hong Kong

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Racism to me is one of the worst evils. It's the precursor of distrust, hatred, genocide, war and many other wrongs.

Racism has been a part of Hong Kong for a long time. High-paid British and American expats looking down on the local Hong Kong Chinese was an accepted part of life in Hong Kong for many years. Only when Hong Kong was returned to China, and when the expats saw their salaries come down while the local Chinese executive salaries went up did some of that racism go away.

Many Hong Kong people that I know will say that Hong Kong people are very fair to non-Chinese races, that racism is a non-issue. To an outsider, and especially to caucasians who are usually treated with respect, that would probably appear to be a fair statement. It is not. Racism among Hong Kong people is unfortunately quite common, and usually targets races and populations who don't make as much money as the local Hong Kong Chinese, or whose home countries rank lower than Hong Kong from a civilisation point of view. Darker races are especially looked down upon. Before 喬寶寶's rise to celebrity status, the only Indians respected in Hong Kong were the hotel owners, even though much of the local Indian population grew up in Hong Kong and are fluent in three or more languages including Cantonese while most local Chinese are only fluent in one language. (喬寶寶 is extremely intelligent, and is fluent in English, Cantonese, Mandarin and Punjabi.)

Philippinos and Indonesians are also the targets of local racism. As domestic helpers, they work very hard for very little money, and more than a few local Chinese feel that they have the right to treat them like slaves (typically because everyone else does it), working up to 18 hours or more a day. In some cases, the helper is illegally denied their right to take a holiday each week. In some cases, the helpers are even physically abused.

Don't misunderstand me. Hong Kong is certainly not the only country with this problem. Racism is a problem the world over. My point is that Hong Kong is not as non-racist as some people think it is.

Racism presents itself in different forms. Not physically abusing a helper does not necessarily mean that you're not racist. If you make the assumption that all Philippino and Indonesian helpers steal, then you're racist. If you make the assumption that none of a specific race of people can be trusted, that they'll all take advantage of you when you turn your back, that they'll all lie to your face without flinching, then you're racist. If you make the assumption that all people of a specific race are dirty, unsanitary or fowl smelling, then you're racist. If you're disgusted by the gatherings of Philipinos and Indonesians in gardens and public areas throughout Hong Kong on their one day off each week but welcome the sight of Chinese or caucasian gatherings in the parks, then you're probably racist.

I absolutely despise racism, especially when it adversely affects the innocent. And if I discover racism in any of my close friends or relatives, then I am extremely disappointed and saddened.


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23 Responses to “Racism in Hong Kong”
  1. Huey says:

    Hey, how r u doing at TVB? I haven't seen much of your performance in any of the late tvb series? Anything new coming up??
    After reading your post, I do agree with you to some extent. But, having considered some of your points, how would you differentiate stereotype with racism, because, speaking from a personal perspective, some points you raised are rather stereotype than racism. I believe that it is only racist if it's false. I'm not here to challenge you or whateva, I just wanted to comment on what I think and I hope that makes sense LOL...

    Anyway, have a good week.

  2. 河國榮 says:

    hello Huey.

    I haven't been at TVB for almost 4 years. wow! it's been that long already. I have something planned for the near future but my health needs to improve before I can finish it, and I hope everyone likes it when I finally finish it. however, I'll be acting in a play produced by the HKREP in January next year. we begin rehearsals in December. from what I've heard, my character will be the only bi-lingual character in the play. don't know too much about the character yet. will know more later.

    stereotypes? yes. some are stereotypes, but stereotypes become racism when they're derogatory in nature, so the examples I provided although stereotypes are also very strong indicators of racism because they're all derogatory. a stereotype that stated all Germans have blond hair and blue eyes would simply be a stereotype, unless we lived in a society where blond hair and blue eyes are the lowliest of characteristics to have in which case it would become racism.

    would you agree?


  3. Stephanie says:

    this was a great blog and i'm not from HK and don't want to generalize about people in a place i don't live in, but the times that i have been there, i have seen blatant racism be played off as not existing. don't get me wrong - i love hk. and like you had said, it's not just hk - it's all over the world... for me, stereotyping in my mind means to characterize, identify a trait, quality, appearance, etc. about a person. and this stereotyping tends to eventually lead to racism, which is believing and acting (in forms of distaste or hatred) out on your stereotype - and believing, acting that they are above that person.

    a little bit wordy, perhaps not very coherent and a long winded way of saying great mind provoking post.

  4. Mark says:

    Can't agree with you more. Many domestic helper employers I know are mean to their helpers. Hongkongers are arrogant in many ways and very often you don't find them nice and sincere as you would expect in a more civilised world. Perhaps many of us, Hongkongers, came from or rooted in a still developing country, China.

  5. Sam says:

    I think we all have to admit that racism is just part of life, part of culture, part of our blood, it differs just from individuals to how bad it is.

    While the racism in HKG is not too bad against the European, people from other South East Asian, Middle East or African countries have certainly been looked down. However, I personally don't think it is as bad as certain parts in US, Aussie, or NZ.

    I'm from NZ and they claim there's no racism in this country and of 10 years observation, I firmly believe it is a false claim. Surprise? Well, I think I'd prefer to be in a country where they acknowledge and handle racism issues, than in a country claiming that they are neutral when nowhere on Earth is neutral and therefore neglecting these things are happening.

    So to me, HKG, you're better off not to claim there's no racism.

  6. Bevan says:

    I'm Chinese and I live in Australia. As Chinese, we'd like to think that we're not racist but I've seen and met so many Chinese who may not say things that are racist in front of other races, but certainly do so when amongst Chinese. They think they are stating "facts" but they are certainly being racist in my view.

    Mind you, we are very good at complaining when we're being discriminated against, but will turn a blind eye when we discriminate against others.

    There's even racism amongst Chinese, between China, Taiwan, HK and Singapore. "ABC"s are usually also treated differently, like a 鬼佬, because they usually don't speak Chinese (or speak with an accent). And I've heard things said like "he wouldn't know what good food is, he's a 鬼佬". Then we have the "我們中國有5千年的歷史" argument...yet we still have people spitting on the street.

    When I worked in HK some years ago, I would often not make known that I can speak Chinese and just listen to things people would say in front of me as they assume that I'm from Australia and I don't speak English with a Chinese accent, I must be an ABC. I love looking at the shock on their face when I finally speak in Chinese.

    It'll take time to change - with education.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I am particularly attracted to this topic that you have written. Honestly, I live in a society filled with extreme racism. Living in a country with a multicultural society is particularly tiring in some ways. Being the minority race of the country, there are many things you will lose out. The best example would be in terms of education. Being a student, I would say I despise this issue. Scholarships are awarded specially for the majority, the indigenous of the country. The remainder of the society are left to fend for themselves, competing for the little remains to advance. The worst part of this condition is everyone are citizens of the country but only a certain race receives such privilege. Unfortunately, there are little universities in my country which are of world ranking unlike Hong Kong which is blessed with HKU.

    Racism exist everywhere if you were to ask me. I have seen it for myself in my country and places that I have visited. I would see it in a way that it is the thinking of each race that they are superior over others causing such stereotyping and racism. Perhaps the theory of White supremacy that lead to many whites discriminating the Chinese like what you have written.

  8. Jonathan L says:

    Sometimes it's hard to communicate with people that's not your own race. I've been to hk and I've seen Philippinos and Indonesian there. I guess it's easier for them to earn money in hk. When I'm on the streets, I see them all packed together. Ya, it would be nice if they'd bend in with the Chinese.


  9. Huey says:

    Yes, I do agree that a stereotype could lead to racism if it's derogatory, but how derogation is defined? by acts or words?
    For example, I don't like people with body odours, and Indian people happen to be the one which I mostly have encountered bearing such a hateful smell and so I don't like some indians because they smell, is that derogatory? hence, it is racist? I personally believe that I'm not a racist person, it is just a personal preference of a particular type of people.

    Anyway, off the topic, back to your play, when is it gonna be showing? why did u leave TVB? Apparently, a lot of artists have left TVB, is it because of the pay or some other reasons behind?

  10. Stephen says:

    @Jonathan, I believe that you meant to say 'blend' in. In response to that, I must say I agree. However on the flip side, do we as Asians, in particular and specifically the Chinese, practice this concept of blending in? I thought so. Having said that I don't agree that all Asian behave in this manner. Many of our own race have blend in seamlessly yet preserve our ethnic heritage. Despite all these, we live in a world that being stereotypical is unavoidable. The trick is our willingness to look beyond that to see the reasons behind the socioculture of the stereotyped subject to avoid falling into the trap of progressing the stereotype into racist comments which often become derogatory.

  11. tina says:

    So thats who u are. I must admit I was astounded when I came upon this blog and saw a face I have seen many times on HK drama.

    Anyway, I lived among Aussies in Brisbane and yes I experience and seen racism. But I refused to be bothered by it. There are quite a few closet racists. Not everyone is racist though. I have met truly nice folks and some larrikin.

    I aplaud you Gregory/Kwok Wing for venturing into a different place for work and living. It must be eye opening for you.

  12. Howard says:

    Agree, I spent a few night in HK and the hotel I live has a strange rule, ppl from certain countries has to pay a higher price, and those countries are known as labor export countries, I don't think this is fair. Try to do it in the States, see what kind of trouble you are gonna get into. HK is a nice city but some times its really... ...

  13. Ivan says:

    Racism, classism, sexism, ageism…. homophobia, discrimination, hatred, arrogance, you name it, are all flaws and none of them can be right. They are all negative divisive sentiments based on differences. However, if truth be told, I believe we all have been guilty (inadvertently or otherwise) of one or more of these at some point… to some degree. The very fact that we compare which group is more bigoted could be the beginning of another slippery slope.

    I think it all begins with the need to survive. A deer needs to know monkeys are friends and lions are foes. The ability to differentiate our cohabitants is important. In our modern world, we need to have cultural awareness. Would it be wise not to mention the significance to our non-Caucasian children when visiting south of the Dixie line in the States? Should any society be condemned for warning its citizens about liquid and food intake or hygiene standard while staying in certain foreign countries but not the others?

    So being aware of the differences between our cohabitants is an instinct, a natural tool for survival. However, as usual, humans can and therefore do use such tools for good as well as for evil. Hitler and the KKK are the infamous manipulators of our inherently neutral instinct. However, our fear, insecurity, resentment and other negative feelings… our imperfections have something to do with it too.

    I believe the answer is us. We have to first acknowledge that we all can be (and because of our imperfections, at some point we probably have been) bigots. Before comparing or blaming anyone else, we have to be vigilant to our own thoughts and behaviours and take responsibility for them. We have to be honest to ourselves as well as to others. Stop focusing on the differences between ourselves and start celebrating what we have in common. And if you agree, start informing the ones around you of our responsibility and start the ripple effect.

  14. Matt says:

    Isn't it racist when some Chinese refuse to speak Cantonese or Mandarin with non-orientals and just ignore us or speak only in broken English which is sometimes almost impossible to understand? I think that some Chinese people could do a better job of acknowledging the fact that a growing number of non-orientals are able to converse in Chinese, and therefore give everyone an equal opportunity to hear the local language(s), especially when specifically requested.

  15. Bryan Law says:

    You have celeb. status. What I really wish you could do is fight this one fight for all the white Chinese speakers. I grew up in HK and consider myself HK'er, but because I am white I will never be accepted. Even though I speak Canto well, and Mandarin better than locals, I am always considered an outsider and thus a genius for knowing Chinese. I haven't been beat or bullied for it, but I get unfair celeb status. I can pick any girl up. I know it may be hard to believe I am complaining about that, but I just wish I could be normal. Why is it that I can only be treated normal in foreign countries (i.e. Canada) but some superstar at home (HK)?

  16. light says:

    I recently suffered racism working in a multinational company in hong kong....then i found out many like me have undergone similar incidences....but no one does anything....

  17. Jack says:

    Reverse racism is common in Hong Kong as well. Locals often refer to Caucasians as "gewi lo" (ghost man). I understand that this may or may not have negative connotations but within the corporate world it often does. In corporate there tends to be a big divide between expats and locals. This has a lot to do with the salary, management and language fluency differences. The imbalance favouring expats has tended to cause somewhat of a sense of bitterness among locals. In light of this, I've encountered many instance where local managers (and even colleagues) have turned down potentially great expat job candidates simply due to their own insecurities and being threatened - an expat might come in an outshine them.

  18. Michael says:

    I grew up in an international school speaking mainly English, and I must say, racism towards even the Chinese is pretty large. Minorities resenting previous slights from the Chinese are quite racist towards them. Whites viewing themselves as superior are very cliquey and some even refuse to associate with non-whites. I am a personal believer in the idea of nationalism where people stay where they are meant to be.
    I do not believe immigrants and others should be given priority, or even equality when it comes to social issues. Why should the locals suffer, when they clearly were here first? Colonial Hong Kong was humiliating, and I would like to bring up the famous sign that said "No Chinese and no dogs", even in the Orient. This attitude is still prevalent, and it must be stopped. Ethnic Chinese should be given priority, if only because this was our land to begin with.

  19. Thomas says:

    Racism and prejudice in Hong Kong! Please help spread the word, go http://racism.imthomas.com and press “Like” inside to agree to what I say. Thank you everyone!

  20. Thomas says:

    Sorry, the link above is incorrect. This is the correct on: http://www.racism.imthomas.com

  21. Bjahova says:

    Hong Kong: White people are superior, Chinese people suck white peoples Dic*s
    and think theyr white. eg: chinese girls would die to get a white man, bringing home a white guy -their parents are gona start thanking God for their luck ( theyr christian already- white wanabe). All other dark skinned races - who are actually more knowledgeable about the chinese culture, speak their fkin language, work hard and make up more of the community, are treated like 3rd class citizens and slaves. Thanks HK.

  22. Prav says:

    As an Indian, I think you are a Cunt of the highest order. Your ignorance does not surprise me one bit. Btw, speaking about stereotypes, did you cook your dog or cat today?

  23. Min Yung says:

    I am from Hong Kong, but I do agree what you think. It always irks me to see a particular race being discriminated mainly because of their appearances, skin color, economic status and personal beliefs.

    I think EVERYONE has the authority to be treated fairly, but it's just too many people are self-centered, people eventually got influenced by this matter.

    By the way, Thanks for sharing your perspective :)